Hearing Held on NGP’s “Missing” Voter Registration Forms, as DeKalb, Chatham Settle
(APN) ATLANTA — Fulton County Superior Court Judge Christopher Brasher did not immediately issue a ruling, after a hearing yesterday, October 24, 2014, on the writ of mandamus sought by New Georgia Project (NGP) and other voter advocacy groups with respect to what they say are approximately 40,000 missing voter registration forms.
A writ of mandamus is an extraordinary form of relief, available when no other adequate remedies are available, where a court would force elected officials to do their jobs, such as process voter registration forms.
Statewide and Midterm Elections are only ten days away.
Brasher said in court that he would rule next week on litigation brought by NGP; Third Sector Development, NGP’s parent organization; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP.
Defendants originally included the office of the Georgia Secretary of State (SOS), and the Elections Boards of five Georgia counties, including Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Chatham, and Muscogee.
Since the original lawsuit was filed, the Plaintiffs have settled with, and dismissed claims against, DeKalb and Chatham Counties, leaving three counties and the SOS in the case.
The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, representing Third Sector Development, filed a writ of mandamus that, if enforced, would require the SOS to promptly process voter registrations submitted in time for these citizens to cast a regular ballot in the upcoming November 04, 2014, elections.
NGP and other coalition partners assert that the SOS is not doing its duty as the governing body in the State regarding elections, in order to ensure every eligible voter is allowed to vote; and that ultimately SOS Brian Kemp is responsible if the process is failing at any level – county or state.
They are also frustrated by the apparent lack of concern by the SOS and accuse him of Republican partisanship in the delay and omission of adding new eligible voters through a “broken system” that they say works in favor of the Republican Party.
“This is about fighting today, and when we fight, we win – at least that is what the history books tell us,” Georgia State NAACP President Francys Johnson said before the hearing this morning.
Since March 2014, NGP has collected and submitted over 85,000 voter registration applications targeting minority voters across the state. NGP asserted in the courtroom that there are now 49,000 remaining registrations in question.
According the NGP, as of October 17, 2014, they have matched their list of registrants with the latest released State’s voter file and the Secretary of State’s “pending” list.
During the procedures today, there seemed to be some confusion which remains as to whether the county election pending lists and the SOS pending list were “dynamically interactive,” meaning constantly updated and cross-referencing each other.
There was also confusion as to how an individual may turn up on a pending list in general. Counties maintain spreadsheets of pending registrations.
Voters may end up on a pending list because they don’t match up in data systems that SOS verifies Social Security Numbers or Georgia Driver’s License numbers against the Social Security Administration and Georgia Department of Driver Services, Julie Houk, Senior Special Counsel, Voting Rights Project, for the Lawyers’ Committee, said.
The error may happen from a number of reasons–not relating to voters’ information submitted–such as data entry issues at the county level, or system match-up issues, like hyphens included in last names, Houk said.
This unfairly impacts the voter who has sent in the correct information, Houk said. They will be sent a letter to correct the issue within a strict time limit of thirty days. At the end of thirty days, their registration application will be terminated if the issue is not resolved.
The SOS is under no time obligation to get any applications in the system during a specific time period after receiving applications, but the voter is given thirty days to correct an issue, or they will terminated from the list and disenfranchised from voting, though they could fully meet the eligibility criteria. This is unfair and demonstrates how the system is not working, Houk said.
The Plaintiffs say that the Defendants’ arguments show that the Defendants lack any sense of of urgency about the situation.
The Plaintiffs argue that the Defendants’ failure to properly register these voters meets the “extraordinary” requirement for a successful writ of mandamus.
Their primary contention is that the Secretary has not performed his duty, because of all these missing individuals who are neither on the voter rolls, nor any pending list.
In statements made earlier this week, Kemp, a Republican, claimed the lawsuit is “frivolous” and that there are no missing registrations.
Russ Willard from State Attorney General Office, who is representing the SOS, claimed that the responsibility for determining the eligibility of an applicant that is to be added to the voter rolls falls strictly on the county election boards, and that the process is working for voters in Georgia.
Chatham and Dekalb settled through mutual release agreements prior to hearing.
Fulton, Muscogee, and Clayton officials were concerned and even surprised that they were included in the lawsuit, stating they were not contacted by NGP.
They have reported status of all of the registrations submitted to their offices with no record of the missing registrations in question.
The hearing concluded at noon.
With the latest national polling results for Georgia showing a very tight races for U.S. Senate and Governor, the stakes are high for both major political parties.
Who gets to the polls and who shows up on the rolls will be critical to the outcome of this election. Eyes are on Georgia as it emerges into a state of play where those missing voters could make all the difference.